ars ludi

if you asked Ben's brain about gaming, this is what it would say

Bottling GM Skills

I just released Evil Genius #1: World Domination, and it occurs to me that I come up with much (much) more ars ludi material while working on games for publication than I do while working on games that I'm just going to run.

It makes perfect sense really: as a GM you may do all sorts of things that make a game good, but those bits of GM Craft only become crystal clear when you try to explain them to someone else (or watch other GMs make mistakes, even if they are mistakes you make too, which is why run club is so educational).

When I ran the original games that eventually became Lame Mage releases, I threw in situations like Action Shticks all the time, but it was only when I tried to prepare those same games for other GMs to run that I recognized the concept of Action Shticks as something that needed to be explained and written down so that other GMs could do the same thing. Likewise with Revelations, Give Them Details, the whole Anatomy of an Action Scene structure, and just about every GM Craft tip in a Lame Mage adventure.

It's all in the reflexes…

There's another dirty secret of GM advice, and that's that during the game, in the heat of the moment, you are not going to remember any advice someone told you, or that you read somewhere. You are not going to stop the game to flip through the adventure and find the sage advice that I wrote for you. The game is real time, and more often than not you will react in real time, make a call, and continue to run the game, for better or worse.

Afterwards there will be lots of time to analyze what happened, think about what went wrong, post questions on the boards about how you should have handled the situation, and generally weep. But that's no guarantee you won't make the same mistake again, because GM'ing is a reflex action. You can stop and think about some things, but the critical parts tend to happen very fast. The words that come out of your mouth, the ideas that spill off the top of your head, they are the game that happens, not all the notes and preparation of the game you intended.

So if that's the case, what's the point of all this GM Craft stuff? Why am I even writing all this? Well in the long run, you can absorb, reflect and alter your style, but it is more like changing your personality than just remembering some tips (because your personality is your gaming style, whether you're a player or GM). You may not eliminate those moments where you forgot everything you learned or planned to do, but you may reduce them.

Also, elements like Action Shticks, Revelations (all the Anatomy of an Action Scene components) are intentionally built into the structure of the adventure so you don't have to look after them — they look after you. If you write them in when you design the adventure (and I do), they reinforce a good game during play even if your reflexes betray you from time to time.